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One of the received truths of education reform is that a creative, talented school principal can do a lot, whether by embracing technology, changing the way a school is organized, or allocating resources differently. The counter is that true principal autonomy doesn’t exist because of strict limitations by district, state, and federal mandates, union contracts, and such. This new study from the Center on Reinventing Public Education asks two questions: First, what do principals report as barriers to their autonomy? And second, are the barriers are real or imagined? (Fordham tackled similar questions in 2008 in The Leadership Limbo, primarily in reference to union contracts. To find the answers, the researchers interviewed eight principals in three states from a variety of policy and district environments—a small sample, yes, but the analysts spent considerable with them and probed deep. The researchers organized principals’ responses into a total of 128 barriers to change: 22 percent impeded efforts to improve teacher quality, 38 percent restricted resource allocation, and 40 percent prevented instructional innovation. The researchers then compared the principals’ responses with state and federal laws and local collective bargaining agreements. They found that 31 percent of the reported barriers were real, including forced placement of teachers, bargained teacher salaries, and state-mandated class sizes. Many of these real barriers were financial, including restrictions on financial autonomy because of categorical funding. The remaining 69 percent, however, were either imaginary or surmountable. For example, most principals wanted to move to a competency-based system but felt...

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Even the soundest of education policies yield little when conditions on the ground block school-level actors from being effective. And the key school-level actor is the principal.  So that’s where New Leaders and the Bush Institute fix their joint gaze in this report about replicating great principals at scale. The problem is that today’s great principals tend to succeed in spite of district conditions, not because of them. This both repels worthy candidates and pushes out incumbents. The solution, say these analysts, is a four-pronged framework that starts in the central office and trickles down all the way to student achievement. First, school boards must instill a district-wide culture in which everyone “co-owns” pupil achievement and school-level actors enjoy the autonomy and encouragement to produce more of it. Second, goals and strategies need to align, creating a unified effort to maximize student achievement. Third, districts should employ principal managers who work with principals to improve student outcomes and with districts to remove barriers to success. Fourth, districts must grant principals the authority to mold their schools, including the ability to hire, fire, promote, and assess. All of these conditions are meant to create an environment in which effective leaders thrive and can facilitate strong student outcomes. If this all sounds obvious—and consistent with our own new Fordham study—it also compels the reader to wonder how districts are supposed to make all of this happen. Fortunately, in the report, the authors reference a concurrently published “toolkit” that promises...

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The Education Department has been slowly gathering itself together over the past decade to review states’ mandatory annual IDEA “performance plans” on the basis of student outcomes, in addition to bureaucratic compliance with sundry procedural and data-reporting requirements.

In giving feedback to the states a year ago, for example, Melody Musgrove (who directs the Office of Special Education Programs at ED) forewarned chiefs that ED was redesigning their monitoring system into “a more balanced approach that considers results as well as compliance.”’

Yesterday, they made considerable news by basing their latest round of feedback on criteria that include how a state’s disabled students fare on NAEP and the size of achievement gaps that separate those pupils from “all children on regular statewide assessments.” Further changes are promised for subsequent years, including student-growth data based on statewide assessments. Also promised is a reduction in compliance-style reporting and data burdens.

Based on this analysis, the feds then sort states into three buckets labeled “meets requirements,” “needs assistance,” and “needs intervention.” And the inclusion of outcomes data really does turn out to make a difference. Whereas in previous years almost every state and territory (forty-one last year, to be specific) fell into the first bucket, this year just eighteen do. (There’s a fourth bucket entitled “needs substantial intervention,” but at present, no state has been placed there.)

Among the many “sinkers”: Ohio, which went from bucket 1 to bucket 2, and Delaware, which declined from 2 to 3....

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Yes, everybody understands that “school leaders matter,” a truism now morphing into a cliché that trips easily from the tongue but typically fails to cause movement anywhere in the worlds of education policy and practice.

As a result, far too many U.S. schools lack the leaders that they need. Far too many principals lack the wherewithal—authority, resources, capacity, etc.—to lead effectively. And far too many school systems, especially urban districts with the most urgent need for dynamic competence in this crucial role, haven’t yet figured out the best way to find the strongest candidates in the land and induce them to move into the principal’s office.

This is scarcely a new problem. Indeed, it’s been so much discussed and fussed about that people may be wearying of it—or possibly have come to believe that surely it’s been solved by now.

Yet urgent leadership-related changes haven’t yet been made in American public education, or have been gingerly tried in just a handful of places. Most states still expect principals to possess a traditional administrative certificate, at least for those running district schools, and most of those certificates are still awarded primarily through completion of traditional “ed leadership” programs via graduate degrees in conventional education schools. Nor has the compensation of school principals much improved; indeed, the annual average salary difference in 2011–12 between what veteran high-school teachers (eleven to twenty years) and their principals get paid was roughly $40,000. In the District of Columbia, top teachers earn as...

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USA! USA! USA!

Brickman and Victoria talk principal hiring, Common Core moratoriums, and charter accountability. Dara tells us about barriers to improving schools.

Amber's Research Minute

Policy Barriers to School Improvement: What's Real and What's Imagined? by Lawrence J. Miller and Jane S.Lee, (Seattle, WA: Center for Reinventing Public Education, June 2014).

  1. A tale of two tests. Or three tests. Or four. Reporters in Zanesville checked in with local districts to get their take on whether the alternative assessments available to determine if third grade students can read well enough to move on to fourth grade are comparable or simply a lowering of the bar. Nice piece. (Zanesville Time Recorder)
     
  2. Even if the bar was lowered, nearly 12 percent of third graders in Ohio still have not scored high enough on any assessment to be promoted. In Columbus City Schools, they are focusing on numbers – specific individual children who have not yet passed – and teachers and administrators are hitting the streets this summer to meet families in their homes and make sure they know of the considerable resources available to them through the district. Despite the sports metaphor (“blitz” is, I think, related to American football and can often result in some violent tackling), this seems like a fantastic innovation for the district and is to be applauded mightily. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. As noted earlier this week, Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s immense facilities plan is at an important crossroads. The PD’s editorial board weighs in today on the state of the plan as it stands now and what they’d ideally like to see instead. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. The Toledo school board voted yesterday to place a “new money” levy on the November ballot - 5.8 mils above the current millage. Voters in that city have
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  1. So, yesterday we took a look at open enrollment in one part of Ohio from the perspective of the districts and seemed to conclude that it was “just business” – net “winner” districts are happy, net “losers” are not and it’s all about dollars. Well, today we catch up with another open enrollment story – one that focuses squarely on why students and parents participate in open enrollment and where the call of “it’s just business” did not fly. To refresh your memory: a “net winner” district in Northeast Ohio started feeling guilty about taking so much money from its neighbors and decided to trim the number of open enrollment seats it would fill in 2014-15 (I’m sure the green eye shades were out to work over those numbers), but as that number was well below the number of kids currently in the district from elsewhere, it seemed inevitable that they would have to kick some kids out. Despite assurances to the contrary, the district did just that, non-renewing nearly three dozen students who had been open enrolled and attending in the district for years. An extremely predictable stink arose and last week the school board was forced to retreat, reinstating all the kicked-out students who wanted to return, although honestly those parents and kids have got to wonder if they are really welcome there or if they are “just business”. (Willoughby News Herald)
  2. There’s not much play on this story outside of Columbus yet, but
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You’ve already read in the Ohio Education Gadfly what we think about the third-grade reading scores across Ohio. Around the state, journalists are trying to parse what’s worked and what hasn’t and what districts will do with the approximately 12 percent of third graders who are still at risk of being held back. Here’s a sampling of what the papers are saying:

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  1. Round 2 of Ohio’s Straight A Innovation Fund grants were awarded on Friday. You can check out a description of the final determination process here. (Gongwer Ohio) There were 37 projects awarded funding statewide and we'll be covering a number of them through the week I'm sure. First out of the gate is a list of Franklin County-specific winners, courtesy of the Big D. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. I think the headline pretty much says it all, but the story is entertaining nonetheless: “Anti-Charter Groups Crash Community School Info Session, Rail Against ECOT.” Yikes. It’s all-out war this summer in Ohio, methinks. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  3. In the above story, charter school opponents give lip-service to school quality being of issue to them, but it really is just about money – money following children from district schools to charters. Here is a more detailed version of that same issue around the topic of open enrollment in the Hancock County area. Bottom line: net financial “winner” districts are fine with the system; net financial “loser” districts are not. And it has very little to do with why the students are moving. In fact, most district officials don’t even seem to care why large numbers of their residents are opting to go somewhere else when given the chance – even when that “chance” requires waiting in very long lines. As the headline implies, it’s just business. Fascinating in-depth look. (Findlay Courier)
     
  4. Governor Kasich says that former NY schools chancellor Joel
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VOUCHER EXPANSION
Governor Rick Scott signed a bill expanding Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program. (Pensacola News Journal)
 
TEACHER QUALITY
Some teachers are looking for ways to improve the quality of those within their profession, because “if a union makes collective demands, it also has to promote collective quality.” (Washington Post)
 
PUTTING ADULTS’ INTERESTS OVER KIDS’
The New America Foundation’s Anne Hyslop argues that dropping the Common Core in Louisiana without a policy alternative is reckless and could “quickly wreck years of careful planning and hard work to improve student outcomes across the Pelican State. And that would be a very high price to pay just to make a political statement.” (Real Clear Education)
 
PHILLY SCHOOLS
The Philadelphia City Council will borrow $30 million to help plug the public school district’s funding gap, while it seeks more funding from state lawmakers. (Associated Press)
 
VALUE-ADDED PAUSE
D.C. has paused its use of the value-added algorithm in teacher evaluations for the 2014–15 year, in order to smooth the district’s transition to Common Core–aligned tests. (Teacher Beat)
 
SPECIAL ED IN CHARTER SCHOOLS
A new CRPE study finds that “counseling out” does not explain why Denver’s charter schools have fewer special-education students than their traditional public school counterparts. (Charters & Choice)
 
ENGLISH-LANGUAGE LEARNERS
Florida has adopted a new set of English-language proficiency standards. (Learning the Language)
 
FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
U.S. News: “Climate...

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